4 September 2013

Love: The Definitive Definition

So a new friend challenged me (in the most non dramatic sense) to write about love. Apparently, although my blog is at least partly about love, I never actually define it and that's probably because my observations and interactions with others have led me to have a negative perception of romantic love. So much so, that I am apprehensive about having a relationship with someone where we identify as being "in love".

I've always thought that I am on a different frequency to the average person when they talk about love. Further investigation into this fundamental miscommunication has told me that it isn't that we are talking about completely different things. We agree that love is some sort of weird amalgamation of all the positive emotions you can feel for a person: respect, admiration, passion,camaraderie, gratuity, pride, reverence, awe, lust, loyalty - even the ones that hurt when you feel them, like yearning, or loss. We agree that we may not feel all of these emotions for all of the people we love or have loved in our lifetime, and that's mainly because one can love many people in many ways - family, friends, partners, those in between. Feeling some of those emotions for an individual is enough to constitute love, although romantic love seems to require more of these emotions than the love you have for a friend, or sibling, for example. But where we disagree is this notion of being "in love". "I love him, but I'm not in love with him" - I've used that phrase myself but what I actually meant is "he is a really nice person and fun to hang out with but we really aren't compatible for a long term relationship". I was just didn't want to dismiss our relationship completely, offend anybody or appear to be slating someone who really was a nice guy. A nice but incompatible guy that I loved. It's just an easy way to express that nobody did anything wrong, we are just not right for one another. The truth is, I probably loved that person enough for us not to have a horrible future together, but I wasn't experiencing the kind of spell that other people seem to be under when they talk of being "in love".

You see, to me, people would say they were "in love" when they wanted to justify why they behave unreasonably towards others, or even themselves by staying in an unhealthy or futile relationship. It was always the reason that people felt it was alright to sacrifice their dignity, self respect and their loyalty to the people who loved them (perhaps not romantically) before and during the time they had this romantic relationship; the same people that will still love you after it ends. So to me, I guess the definition of romantic love, was the point one reaches when the survival of the romantic relationship between two or more people who love one another supersedes whether that romantic relationship is actually healthy for the people involved. When it becomes more important to be in the relationship than happy in the relationship, you are officially "in love" and now, the usual norms and expectations of a functioning human being no longer apply. 
Maybe my views are so coloured because the only time I can identify with being "in love" by the way other people describe it was in probably the unhealthiest relationship I have ever been in. It was then that the sheer intensity of my attachment to this person, the overwhelming codependency, overshadowed every decision I made in regards to my life. It seemed so pivotal that this relationship exist that I made quite monumental decisions that I could easily regret now. I don't, often, but I could. And I wasn't even happy in the relationship. I just couldn't see anything else being even nearly as important as the survival of Us. The funny thing is that now I have got to a place where "I'm not in love with him but do love him", we have a far healthier relationship that we ever have. Yes, it's strictly platonic but in terms of how we communicate and cooperate, we are doing far better than we ever have before.My experience of being "in love" involved me feeling insecure, paranoid, unworthy and bitter whilst I battled in vain to save a doomed relationship. That's what being "in love" meant to me, being powerless against your emotions, powerless to live outside of that attachment. Just loving someone didn't involve those sorts of negative emotions though. You can love someone and still let them breathe, you can love them and still allow them to be themselves, you can love them without compromising your own wellbeing, you can love them and let them go. Being "in love" was almost as if you feel you own the person, as if they owe you something because of how you feel about them. Luckily, a large amount of the time there are two or more people who feel this way about each other, thus, they are prepared to accept this sort of intrusive, suffocating behaviour simple because they expect to be able to dish it out too. And it works, they muddle along in this codependent, boundless union which is reliant on the intricate use of several methods of psychological warfare, all aimed at obtaining and maintaining control and power over the relationship. The one with the most power will have more of their needs met and have to sacrifice less in the long run, it is definitely worth hashing out who that privileged person will be.

So, what is my definitive definition of love? It's an emotion based on a combination of other emotions. Like other emotions it can be used for positive interactions and the formation of healthy relationships or it can be used to manipulate and control.  It's that sick feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you worry and it's that burst of sunshine in your soul when you rejoice. It's that familiarity, that security, that contentment in another person and it's wanting to give them that back in return. It's having the ability to assess someone else separately from you, and being able to think about their needs in total isolation to yours, even if it probably means some of your needs will not be counted. It's commitment, it's obligation, but without the burden so many feel are inherent in both. It's the thing that stops you, it's the thing that makes you carry on.